Book: Skull Scrying

Skull Scrying, by Lupa, self-published 2015.

Buy direct from Lupa.

SkullScryingCover-600I love to collect tarot and oracle decks, but divination is not a skill that comes naturally to me so learning to scry was far from my mind. However, having heard that Lupa had recently released a book on the subject I thought that I should at least give it a try!

My collection of skulls is surprisingly small (I really must rectify that), but I had two volunteers – a dog skull, and a kitten skull. Those belonging to the wilder animals were not interested in getting involved. For practical reasons, I chose to scry with the dog. He’s robust, whereas the kitten is very small and fragile. (I hope to work with the kitten in future though, now I have a better idea of what I am doing!)

Following the advice from Lupa, the dog and I spent a short time in deep conversation about his time as part of a living being, and what he thinks constitutes a good life. Nothing earth-shattering, as most of it can be learned from spending time with any dog (alive or dead).

Skull scrying is not a tool I’d use for divination, in the magical, mystical sense of the word, but it is something I will use when I want to get to know the spirits residing in the skulls that come into my care, and for asking the advice of those individual spirits; in a similar way to when I ask Lucy, my cat, for some sort of reassurance or guidance. It is a wonderfully intimate way to converse with sacred remains, and I would recommend that my fellow death workers try skull scrying (if they haven’t already, I’m usually late to the party).

The book itself is short and sweet (which is reflected in it’s price), and Lupa does her usual job of covering the practical side of the work before going into the esoteric stuff. In this case, she takes time and care to discuss the laws around acquiring and trading animal remains, and some ethical considerations practitioners need to make before deciding on working with skulls.

Lupa goes on to describe two techniques in which to scry, one short-and-sweet, the other more suited to longer ritual work. Both are easily accessible to those who have passed Paganism and Magic 101. There is nothing there that is intimidating. Skull scrying is a skill for anybody who cares to learn.

There is one negative mark against the book though; the e-book comes as a PDF. As a rule, I never buy PDF books as (unlike proper e-books), the fonts and their size cannot be changed so are near impossible to read on a screen or tablet. Personally I found the font far too small and had to squint to read the book. This is my individual preference though, and has no bearing on the quality of Lupa’s writing. If you are like me, perhaps consider spending a bit more money on getting a hard copy.

If you are a collector of animal remains, this book may give you some ideas on how to get to know the spirits attached to them. If you are already working with the spirits, this book may open up a whole new way of speaking with them. Both reasons are well-worth the price of this little book.

Of Cats and Mice

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This is Lucy.

When you bring a cat into your family, you have to accept that you are bringing a small, furry serial killer in too. If you aren’t prepared for that, or live in a fragile bioregion, cats are not the companion animals for you. Our previous cat, Dougal, had a passion for sparrows; Lucy is more into rats and mice. It’s not pretty, but you just kind of get on with it (and pray that you don’t tread on any of Lucy’s gifts as you stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night).

And so, I have two stories to share with you.

The Cute Story*

*Cute is a relative term

Last week, I was changing my altar space over. I usually set up my altar a couple of days before a ritual or celebration, and leave it set up until I have another event to set up for. The past celebration was Samhain; for those of you unfamiliar, Samhain is the start of the ‘dead time’ where the veil as at it’s thinnest, is a time for honouring the ancestors, and is traditionally the last of the harvest festivals – the meat harvest.

I began moving my collection of skulls, stones and ornaments from the altar back to their regular locations. Between dog skull and my statue of Baphoment, I uncovered an offering to the ancestors left by Lucy.

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A little wood mouse! He was a bit squishy and smelly, but I was totally caught up in the magic of the moment. “Maybe Lucy is my familiar after all?”, I began to wonder as I called my partner away from whatever Very Important Thing he was doing to show him what Lucy did. I was so excited and happy.

But after a few hours, I realised that Lucy has probably stashed the corpses of her victims all over our house. 0_o

The Not-So-Cute Story

When Lucy flounces in through the cat flap and starts singing to herself (she really does sing to herself, it’s a delightful trilling / chirruping sound), I know she has brought something home with her.

This is what happened at silly o’clock in the morning. I began hoping that her victim was dead because it was cold outside my duvet, I was depressed, and the last thing I needed was to chase a mouse around. I followed Lucy’s death song, and found her throwing her tiny, and thankfully dead, prize around the bathroom.

It was then I realised that I was bursting for a piss.

“The mouse was already dead,” I reasoned, “so I’ll pee first then deal with him”.

You know when you are desperate to go, but the pee just won’t come? That was me. So I’m sitting there, in the dark, willing my bladder to empty while Lucy merrily throws the mouse around the bathroom. I heard it thwack off the wall, then the rustling as it was chucked into the stack of spare loo roll, and finally felt the warm furry body bounce off my face.

Christ on a bike, why couldn’t I pee?

Lucy continues her sociopathic merriment.

Finally, I finish and I can stand up.

I switch the light on and go to the mirror. Lucy, very kindly, had opened the throat of the mouse before throwing at me, so I was blessed with a blood offering on my cheek. And there’s no point being mad about it because Lucy is a cat person and this is what cat people do. So I wiped it off, traded Lucy her mouse for a cat treat, and apologised to the mouse for his untimely death before putting him in with the compost and going back to bed.

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I trust that she won’t kill me in my sleep.

The Kurt Report

Kurt 1

It’s been four months since we trapped, neutered and released Kurt, the stray cat living in our back garden. You can see him in the photo above, there. After all these months, that is as close as he will get to us when we are in the garden.

I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed. I have a selfish human desire to cuddle him. He looks like he needs a cuddle, and a nice warm spot to cuddle up and snooze on. But Kurt isn’t there yet.

Kurt 3

Kurt has managed to train me into his feeding routine. He will sit by the kitchen door (if it’s dry), or under a shrub (if it’s wet), and wait for me to spot him. I’ll wave and say hello. While I find my shoes, Kurt will run and hide amongst a patch of ferns, brambles and shrubs. From this vantage point, he’ll watch me as I stumble outside and fill up his food dish. I’ll chat to him while I do his, mostly for my own benefit because I usually only have myself for company. As soon as my kitchen door is closed, he’ll bolt out and start eating.

Even after all these months, I still have a child-like delight in watching him eat then skulk off. On a sunny day, he may linger in the garden to sunbathe. More usually, he’ll head off to attend to Cat Business. I don’t see him every day, which makes me worry.

Kurt 2

With the weather taking a turn for the worse, my partner and I made a shelter for Kurt. It’s a plastic tub lined with straw, insulated with foam and placed inside another plastic tub. The idea came from a shelter design shared by Nanayena. It’s not very elegant, but it has to be better than nothing. I don’t even know if he’ll use it, but we have to try.

Practitioner 2 with pain, panic and personality disorders*

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It took me three and a half years, but last weekend I finally managed to complete my KMG P2 grading!

That’s probably meaningless to those of you who don’t practice Krav Maga; it was four and a half hours of dry drilling strikes, doing techniques and receiving a ridiculous number of blows to the head. It is a lot more fun than it sounds, but I did almost vomit on someone after he punched me in the solar plexus.

It should only take six months between levels, but I have my excuses/reasons. I thought I’d write about them, and how I eventually got around them. Hopefully it’ll be of help to someone else.

Reason the first: Crippling social anxiety. When I first began Krav Maga training, it was to challenge myself to be around people. And fuck me, it was a challenge. I couldn’t hold eye contact with anybody, had no idea how to make conversation, and often didn’t go to class at all! I would stand outside the gym with my hand ready to push the door open … and then I’d flee. Blind with panic, I would bump my way back to the train station and phone my boyfriend in tears.

Solution the first: There wasn’t one. I ended up missing a full year of training, and the only reason I went back is because a class was starting much more locally to me. In my year off I did a lot of CBT work, experimented with different prescription medication, and got diagnosed with my personality disorder*. One thing that really made my life difficult was being told I was “shy”. I’m not shy; I’m an introvert and I have a limited tolerance and interest in other people. Understanding that meant I could prepare to be more sociable when needed to be, instead of being pressured into being “switched on” all the time.

The new local class was a game-changer; not just because it was local, but because it was for newbies. We’d all be starting from the same place, so there would be less pressure. Of course, this perceived pressure was all in my head. I always try to make an effort to train with newbies now, because I remember how awkward I felt when I started.

Has my social anxiety gone? Nope. Every class is a battle, and I have sometimes turned heel and fled upon arriving at the gym.  But most of the time I can remind myself how great I feel afterwards, and push through. The folk I train with are amazing, and I do count them as friends; the people you can mutually rough-house with are friends for life.

Reason the second: Fibromyalgia. I’ve been dealing with this for at least a decade, and it still messes up my day-to-day activities. Issues that affect my training include constant pain, fatigue, hypermobility, and cognitive impairment**. The latter two are the biggest issues. My hips and knees nearly always feel like they are on the verge of hyper-extending, which makes me really uncomfortable with throwing any sort of kick. The cognitive impairment is more complex. My brain processes language very slowly at times; sometimes I don’t recognise spoken language as English, and need to have words written down. Lefts and rights are a complete mystery; I need to allow my muscle memory to handle that sort of stuff.

Pain is still a big issue though. Any sort of fitness/strength training is hell to me. When doing push-ups, jumping squats or burpees, it’s like having metal rods rammed through your palms/soles and right up the inside of your limbs, while your joints are assaulted with skewers. So if you start trying to cheer me on, you will have to forgive me when I tell you to fuck off. Finally, fatigue. It’s alright because usually everybody is knackered by the time we finish the warm-up, so it’s usually a level playing field.

Solution the second: My anxiety about my hypermobility, and my cognitive impairment have improved with practice. On an ideal week I will attend three classes, but in reality it is usually one or two. In the run up to my grading, I also did several private lessons where I could focus on a few techniques. I cannot recommend private lessons enough. For the pain, I just have to accept that I cannot compete with my classmates. There is no shame in that. However, I do try to compete with myself. If I can do just one more push-up/jumping squats/burpee than I did in my previous class, then that is a victory. For the day of the grading, I loaded up on ibuprofen. I was reluctant to do this as I don’t want to become addicted to painkillers, but if I hadn’t have done it I would not have been able to last the duration.

Grading Day: To get through the grading, I broke up the time into class-sized chunks. Four and a half hours is just over two classes. Simple! I made the decision to grade with someone I didn’t know too well, because I thought I would take it more seriously. However, that meant that I wasn’t sure how far I could go with them. During the dry drills and technique demonstrations, I limited my effort to 40%-50% but went to 100% when asked by my instructor. This strategy got me though P2, but I don’t think it’ll help with P3. My instructor briefly gave me feedback. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but my performance was lacklustre. I can completely accept that.

Will I be doing my P3? Yes. It feels nice to say that. After my P1 I am sure I cried “Never again!” I can’t say when I will be doing it though, because I need to figure out how to be more shiny and spirited first. Any advice on how to do that would be most welcome!

*I do not believe that I have a PD and ** may be a symptom of what I do have,

Samhain 2015

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Remember your dead and remember your death.

This Samhain has been tough.

Each year I have tea with the ancestors. The ritual changes every year, but the core practice is to invite the spirits to join me for a cup of tea. Those who want to be seen are seen. Those who want to be honoured are honoured.

This year, as each spirit stepped forward I dedicated a candle to them which was later placed under the branches of my prayer tree and lit.

One person came forward who I was not expecting – Kulta. He stepped into my body briefly, and told me that he wasn’t coming back. That was that. He had retired from ritual work a few months ago, and I was trying to figure out the best way to formally release him … but he did it himself.

I am happy for him, truly, but I am sad for me. Kulta was a huge help to me. On his own he really pushed me in my totemic work, and with Mother Wolf he helped me get used to being in social situations, in interacting with people and in making sense of things that confuse me. But now he’s gone. His old hide is still here and I’m not sure what to do with it.

It’s weird not feeling his presence.

 

The Prayer Tree

Prayer Tree

I have always found Clootie Trees to be beautiful and tranquil spaces, and I have wanted to create something similar as a ritual spot for my own druidic / shamanic practice. Similarly sacred trees are also found in some branches of Mongolian Shamanism and Buddhism, where passers-by have to honour the tree spirit, land spirits and gods with strips of fabric and offerings of vodka.

As part of my studies with the Ancient Order of Druids in America, I had planted a Birch sapling in the garden of my previous home. I had intended for this young tree to become a Prayer Tree but he was not keen on the idea, and over the summer my partner and I moved to a new home.

Our new home has the most amazing garden, and I was instantly drawn to the Japanese Maple that was growing in the south. Japanese Maples are gorgeous; the commonly found ones here in the UK have the most amazing Autumnal colours all year round. Communicating with trees isn’t my strength, but this Maple was welcoming and sweet. She is unassuming and warm, and was a little taken aback when I asked her if she would consider becoming a Prayer Tree. She was only wee, and totally unimposing; how could she be a conduit between Sky and Earth? “Ah, but you already are”, I replied.

Trees have an intrinsic link between Earth and Sky, something we can learn from.

My ritual to dedicate the Maple as a Prayer Tree was unscripted. I asked the tree if she was willing to become a Prayer Tree, and cleared the ground around her as a thank you. Then, I invited Earth and Sky to enter the tree, and see her as a meeting point where I could communicate with them; I can tie ribbons and fabric, representing prayers and wishes, to her branches where they can be seen by the spirits. It was a simple ritual, but it worked.

The Prayer Tree is open to all with an open heart. I can add prayers and wishes to the tree upon request, or you can send your own for me to tie on. I cannot promise that they will be heard by the spirits, but they will be witnessed by me and the Maple tree.

 

The Wolf in my Heart

Drawing of a grey wolf

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my therianthropy. I had no intention of discussing it ever again as I’ve been through it all before, the community I grew up in has long since disbanded, and I was tired of being told that I ‘suffer’ from ‘non-detrimental psychosis’. But a few separate threads of my life have come together and I want to get it all out ‘on paper’ as it were.

I used to be a Maned Wolf therian, but that aspect of my personality left several years ago. Instead, I have had various ‘guests’ present in my mind-heart all of whom have been valuable friends in a totemic way. They come and go, and still do; it’s one of the benefits of being a totemist! However one presence has taken up a more permanent residence within me; Grey Wolf.

This has been the way of things for at least a year now. I wasn’t particularly happy about it at first. Grey Wolf has been an excellent ally in my spiritual work, but to be a Grey Wolf therian? So stereotypical and unimaginative! My ego eventually moved out of the way, and I accepted this new relationship. Grey Wolf has been an amazing influence in my life. With her presence I have managed to settle into a new work environment, negotiate my way through social situations that would have crippled me in the past and, right now, is helping me get to grips with a family crisis. Grey Wolf is known for taking on many students in hopes of finding a rare few who really understand her lessons. Hopefully I am doing her proud.

I don’t often talk about being a therian because a) I can’t really be bothered with dealing with non-believers (I have enough to deal with in explaining being a polyamourous pagan with a personality disorder) and b) it really is not anybody’s business. On the other hand, if I was a lycanthrope I think people would want to know why I was trying to nom on them during the full moon. So why am I talking about it now? Because Kulta, the Wolf pelt I dance with, dropped a wee bombshell on me last week.

Kulta wants to retire from ritual work.

Kulta in the garden
Kulta in the garden

I began to think about how we found each other. It all began with a journey to meet Mother Wolf (this is the name I have given to the totem/animal master of all Grey Wolves). We fought, I skinned her and wore her hide. It was a magnificent feeling, but it couldn’t last. The hide was not mine. As I stitched the hide back onto Mother Wolf, she told me I would earn my own Wolf hide in time.

I thought that hide was Kulta. It seemed like fate when I came across him. He was roadkill, in less than perfect condition and he was able to be shipped to the UK. He arrived in 2010 and after a rocky start, we learned to dance together. Kulta has been an amazing partner. He watches over me, comes with me on many of my journeys into the Otherworlds, and has a lot of fun jumping out at unsuspecting people. Five years is a long time for intensive spiritual work, so his request to retire comes as no surprise, not really.

So what about the hide Mother Wolf promised me?

That’s where the therianthropy comes in. Things feel like they are clicking into place. I *have* earned my Wolf hide, because I *am* a Wolf. It was never a physical thing. It is a spiritual, mental and emotional thing. I’m only just seeing it now. What an amazing thing to have happened to me, and I couldn’t see it for looking at it!

Thank you Kulta, for your friendship.

And thank you Mother Wolf, for keeping your word.

Mice and bees

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My life has been more down than up recently, but hopefully I’ve been able to make the lives of others a bit better.

Last week, I found what appeared to be a dead buff-tailed bumblebee lying in the hall of my home. As I went to pick her up to put her in with the composting, one of her legs began twitching.

I had read somewhere on the internet that bees can get tired and dehydrated easily, and that they can recover with a little bit of sugar water. So for half an hour I sat in the garden, in the rain, trying to encourage the wee bee to feed from a teaspoon.

She gradually began to feed, and it was incredible to watch her unsheathe her tongue and sip from the spoon. Her anatomy was perfection. Over the half hour the wee bee grew bigger (almost doubling in size), her abdomen began to move rhythmically and her wings began to unfurl.  Towards the end, I withdrew and let her potter about on the window sill. And then she flew away.

Real magic.

*

This morning I was awoken by the sound of Lucy, our cat, sounding very happy. She was purring and trilling away to herself. I knew something wasn’t right, because Lucy usually wakes me up by bearing her weight down on my chest and yelling in my face.

Downstairs, I found Lucy throwing a stunned mouse around the living room. After rewarding Lucy with cuddles and treats for being so good at being a cat, I nudged the mouse into a pot with a ventilated lid with some tissue to hide in and some water in a bottle cap to drink. The wee mouse was stunned, and his back right leg was limp. With some advice from a friend, I decided to wait and see if the mouse would recover before I had to make a drastic decision.

After an hour, the wee mouse was moving around but dragging his leg. I took him out into the garden; if the mouse made a run for it then that was his choice, but if he stayed I would take him to the vet to be euthanised. He ran into the bushes at the back of the garden, and I am eternally grateful to him for that. I was so upset about the possibility of facing another Rabbit situation. That probably makes me selfish, but I couldn’t handle making such a decision at this point in time. I’m at the end of my emotional tether just now.

That’s not my cat!

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This is the story of how we sort-of have a new member of the family.

As most of you know, I have just moved house with my partner and our cat, Lucy. Since my partner first picked up the keys we have had a regular visitor to our garden; a very handsome, but very rough-looking black & white cat. Every time we looked out of our window, he was there.

Once the cat realised there were two human-people and one cat-person living in the house he began to sit at our back and front doors, yowling his head off. It sounds like he is singing “Hello! Hello! Hello!”, which led to my partner’s friend naming him after Kurt Cobain. However, he would scarper as soon as we went to open our door.

After a few weeks of this, we began to suspect that he may have been Jane’s cat (Jane being the elderly lady who lived here before us). We began to feed Kurt, and set up a shelter for him. In spite of this, Kurt never warmed to us. If he was somebody’s pet, would he not have become used to us?

One evening we went to speak to the neighbours. Our door was the only one he’s yowl at, but he did visit another neighbour for food. Barney, as the neighbour called him, would visit his home for a meal most mornings, but bolt as soon as a human got too close. The neighbour had been feeding Kurt since September last year, and although he’s been feeding him almost daily since then, Kurt was still suspicious of him.

Well, if a feral cat is going to be living in our garden then we need to make sure he is well.

With the neighbours agreement, I felt that Kurt needed to be trapped, neutered, given a health check and released again. Then, between both households, we would look after him as a feral. I had some savings so money wasn’t a problem, but we still needed to catch him. How do you catch a cat who fears humans?

That’s where the Glasgow Branch of Cats Protection came in. They very kindly loaned us a humane trap, and within 48 hours they had Kurt taken to the local vet. He was neutered, microchipped, vaccinated, and treated for parasites all within a few hours. My partner and I released him into the garden not long after. As a feral cat, Kurt also had his ear tipped. This is something I hadn’t heard of before. When feral cats are caught and neutered, they have the tip of their left ear trimmed before being returned to their habitat. Should he ever be caught again, they can tell by his ear that he doesn’t need surgery. It looks harsh, but it is a good idea.

Feral cats have legal protection, and the best way to help solve the feral cat problem is to trap, neuter and release. If you know of a feral cat in need of support, you can help by providing a safe place for him/her to stay, food and water. All cats should be neutered, and there are Cats Protection branches all over the UK that can help with that.

Kurt should have a long, happy life albeit an unconventional one for a ‘pet’.

*

Since releasing Kurt he has been seen skulking about in the garden, but he’s no more approachable.